SciSun: That’s Shocking!   Leave a comment

Here we have the Pacific electric ray (Torpedo californica). Torpedo californica1 small NOAAIt’s a rather plain looking, flat-bodied fish that lives off the California coast. It’s related to sharks and rays, but has only tiny, round teeth (unlike most sharks); and rather large dorsal (back) fins, unlike most rays. One shocking secret of PacRay (as his friends call him), is the ability to generate a strong electrical charge – up to 45 volts which Ray uses to stun and capture his food, smaller fish. It’s also enough power to knock down a human, although there are no deaths or serious injuries recorded of Pacific Ray attack. Also, the electric-producing organs of these rays have unusually high concentrations of important nerve cells that doctors are using to help understand and find medical treatments for human illness that previously had been considered virtually incurable.

Of course there are a few other fish that can produce strong electric current (in experiments the South American electric eel (Electrophorus electricus) has even produced enough electric current to light up a Christmas tree!) But no mammals or other animals that we know of can shock – unless you count some reality show celebrities who can’t seem to avoid being shocking.

So, because it doesn’t stand out as anything exceptional, there’s not much interest in PacRay by fishermen or even other fish (shock me once, shame on you!) and the population of this Pacific Ray appears strong. But what about other species that are easily overlooked and under appreciated but could serve an important part in a healthy environment, or hold the cure for disease or vital scientific research? In fact there are already many species that are listed as Threatened or Endangered- but aren’t the types of animals most people think about. All species are priceless; but what if any of these could be the key to a scientific breakthrough that is lost forever, if we loose the species tomorrow?

Purplefrog NatGeoThe Purple frog (Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis) may be the last of it’s family going back to the time of the dinosaurs. Believed generally unchanged for millions of years, these little guys were just discovered in 2003 and already are officially listed as Endangered. There’s so little is known of the species, no specific conservation actions are yet in place.

Galago moholi  UnivWisconsin

This isn’t a character from the latest Wizard Fantasy movie; it’s the Rondo dwarf galago (Galago rondoensis), one of the world’s smallest primates, and one of the most Endangered. It only survives in sparse populations, within less than 40 square miles along the East African coast.

Boulengerula_taitanus WIKI

It’s a worm! It’s a centipede! It’s a frog! Actually, this worm-like amphibian IS related to frogs and salamanders. The entire known population of the Sagala Caecilian (Boulengerula niedeni) lives in an area less than 12 square miles. Because of unique anatomy and characteristics, it’s very possible this species could be an integral link in the story of animal evolution.

So these animals, and more, are probably species you’ve never heard about and didn’t even know existed. Maybe they are just ‘one more’ frog or antelope or flower or insect and the loss of any would be regrettable, but not necessarily a disaster – it’s possible other species could adjust and things would go on as before. But it’s just as possible the end of any one species could destroy an irreplaceable link in the environment; or the loss of an unrecoverable piece of scientific research or medical breakthrough. And we think that’s a cost, that would be Shocking.


Michonne Says: Those are some strange animals. I’ve never seen anything like that before. The strangest animal I’ve ever met is a Porcupine. With all those prickly-parts, how do they ever wash their faces?

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